(& scroll down to read my literary sleuthing posts)
Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Jane Austen, Sholom Aleichem….and Leo Tolstoy!

Elissa Schiff responded playfully to a recent post by me in Janeites in which I referred to Sholom Aleichem as a closet Janeite:

[Elissa] "Now Arnie, I have promised my husband that I would not respond to any more of these controversial statements just wildly flung out by you into the blogosphere with rapid-fire exuberance, but your blanket statement that "Sholom Aleichem was a secret Janeite" (and yes, this is not the first time you have written this) is so whimsically absurd and has sent me into such paroxysms of laughter that I've spilled a large mug of coffee all over myself and ruined my outfit. Thus, I am annoyed enough to enter the fray:"

Just so you know, whenever you respond like that, Elissa, I take your reaction as a validation of my ideas....but I am happy to have enjoy some good natured mutual mockery with you in any event....and my wife really doesn't mind either. ;)

Sometimes it is just a case of the Emperor's New Clothes. You can go on as long as you like as to how it is impossible that S.A. could know characters and plot elements from JA's novels, yada yada yada, but I've already made my case earlier about what I believe is the obvious and elaborate correspondence between the Tevya stories and (at least) two of Jane Austen's novels, P&P and Emma:

(read the whole post)

(scroll down to one paragraph re JA making a joke in a letter about a confusion between a woman and a farm animal)

I cannot conceive that all of this happened by coincidence, that seems wildly improbable to me under all the circumstances.

"You may wish to follow up with someone who might actually be able to give you information first-hand as to whether Sholom Aleichem was familiar with JA's work. His grandaughter, Belle Kaufman...."

Actually, Elissa, I _did_ contact Bel Kaufman, way back in 2005, when these connections first occurred to me, and her answer was that S.A. did not speak much English. So that ruled out his having read JA on his own. remained, and remains, obvious to me that, by some means or another, S.A. learnt enough about the characters and plot line in P&P in particular, and in Emma secondarily, in order to affect the structure of the Tevye stories he wrote over a period of years. My guess would be that it probably arose by the serendipitous expedient of a friend or admirer who _was_ fluent in English telling S.A. about the great English author who _also_ specialized in writing with irony and compassion about a few families in a country village. And then--perhaps over several glasses of vodka---I can readily imagine him/her sharing laughter and insight with S.A.--and even perhaps spontaneously translating some of P&P and Emma for S.A.---and giving him inspiration to build on the
connections between Anatevka, on the one hand, and Meryton and Highbury, on the other.

Or......and this will give you another opportunity to spill some more coffee ----since S.A. was (as Bel Kaufman informed me, and it is no secret among S.A. scholars) a big fan of Tolstoy--S.A. translated Tolstoy into Yiddish, for example---and...since Tolstoy was himself a _massive_ closet Janeite.....(waiting while you mop up some more spilled coffee)......perhaps the great Russian Orthodox author himself turned the great Russian Jewish author on to the miracle of the great English Anglican author! ;)

Or....perhaps there was a production of Pride & Prejudice around the turn of the century in one of the Yiddish theaters in NYC which S.A. got wind of.....after all, they did Yiddish versions of Shakespeare and other classic English literature, didn't they?

I don't know _how_ it happened, but I know _that_ it happened!

Cheers, ARNIE

1 comment:

Hai Di Nguyen said...

"since Tolstoy was himself a _massive_ closet Janeite..."
Could you elaborate on that?